Nancy Collins, writer of Red Sonja: Vulture’s Circle #3, talks with writer David Avallone about the Altered States: Doc Savage one-shot, both on sale now. Cover by Billy Tan.
DAVID AVALLONE: For this one, I took the assignment maybe too literally and the set-up is a reference to the Paddy Chayevsky book (and Ken Russell movie) of the same name: Doc takes a Mayan drug to unleash the beast within and learn about human capacity for evil. Where the story becomes a true “altered state” is how it all ends, but I don’t want to spoiler it.
NC: How does writing an Altered States one-shot compare to your work on Legenderry, which features parallel universe steam-punk versions of established Dynamite characters?
DA: In the Legenderry: Vampirella series, the characters and the entire world they inhabit is “altered” from established norms and continuity. In the Doc story, particularly, I wanted the setting and characters to be familiar with just one big change – in this case, Doc regressing to a primitive state – to drive the story. With only 20 pages to work with I wanted to keep the focus on that one story element.
NC: Could you give a brief run-down of the characters for those readers unfamiliar with Doc Savage and his Fabulous Five?
DA: For readers of my generation, the best shorthand might be “Doc Savage is Buckaroo Banzai”, but that’s cheating. Doc is not a superhuman in the standard comic book sense. He’s a combination of Batman’s training, gadgets and wealth with Superman’s unbreakable moral code and goodness (and first name and Fortress of Solitude.)
The Fabulous Five are five guys Doc was in a German prisoner-of-war camp with during World War One. They bonded there, because best friends, and after the war they became his personal A-Team. Quick roll-call: Monk is a chemist who has a rough persona and looks kinda like a monkey (hence the nickname.) Ham is a dandified lawyer with a sword cane, who bickers with Monk. Renny is a very tall, very strong, very moody construction engineer. Long Tom is an electrical engineer, looks sickly and weak but in fact quite tough. Johnny is sort of the nerdiest of the bunch, with glasses and a penchant for using big words, but like the rest of the team, good with his fists. Mention must also be made of Doc’s cousin, Patricia Savage… who, like everyone else on Doc’s team is tough, smart and resourceful. Without her the team is a just a bunch of white dudes, and I was happy to include her here. In my story she takes command when Doc is incapacitated. I don’t think that’s standard in the old stories, but it worked better and was more interesting for me.
NC: Were you a Doc Savage fan growing up?
DA: I was. My dad had been a fan of the original run of the stories (when he was a little boy in the 1930s), and when the paperbacks came out in the 1970s, with those incredible Bama covers, we got them all. (I’m totally dating myself here.) The stories were so crazy and the prose so purple, they were irresistible to me. As the pulp characters go, The Shadow is probably my favorite, but Doc is a close second, followed by G8. I hope someday Dynamite calls and asks me for a G8 story.
NC: David, if I’m not mistaken, you have a family connection to the pulp era—could you elaborate on that?
DA: As above, my dad – Michael Avallone — was a big fan when he was a kid and that is very much what inspired him to become a writer himself. In the 1950s the pulps were starting to die out, but he did end up getting a short story into Weird Tales, and he contributed hundreds of stories to the mystery pulps that were still around at the time: Mike Shayne, Ellery Queen, etc. Mostly these stories revolved around his private eye character Ed Noon, who also appeared in 37 novels. He finally paid direct homage to Doc in his final novel, Since Noon Yesterday, which has a villain named “John Sunlight” (Doc’s Professor Moriarity). But all that said, you can find that pulp sensibility – fast paced stories, vivid characters, impossible plots, action and mayhem – in everything he ever wrote. It’s a style, and a legacy, I’m trying to live up to in all my comic book work. He’s gone now, but he would be very proud and thrilled to see me writing a Doc Savage story.
For more information on Altered States: Doc Savage, click here.